Last night’s Common Council meeting started off on completely the wrong foot when those arriving to attend the scheduled 7:00pm meeting discovered the council already in an executive session, a clear violation of the Open Meetings Law.
4th Ward Alderwoman Diane Hatzenbuhler took personal responsibility for the mistake and 3rd Ward Alderman Ron Barone apologized as well. I can understand a rookie mistake, however a veteran legislator like Barone as well as the other two experienced council members should have known better. I give credit to reporter Rick Morrison for boldly questioning the council at the beginning of the re-convened meeting and delivering a rebuke at the end saying, “I really respect Mr. Barone’s experience in government; he of all people knew what was going on, and when you see something going on that’s not right, you stop!”
This may seem like a technicality to some, however making sure that the public is informed of all meeting times and that executive sessions are held in an accountable manner are essential to maintaining a transparent government. We shouldn’t accept any lapses in upholding what should be a straightforward and well understood procedure.
The meeting took a turn for the better as Robert Purtell, member of the Amsterdam Land Bank Advisory Board, talked to the council about the land bank’s plans and need for funding. The mood of the line of questioning and comments by the council and controller on the subject seemed positive, concentrating on the best way to appropriate the money rather than if they wanted to spend it or not. So I take this as a good sign.
I give a lot of credit to everyone involved with this endeavor; it’s exactly what Amsterdam needs to tackle the problem of blight. Purtell stressed the importance of community buy-in on the plan as key to securing additional funding from the Attorney General’s office, which could greatly accelerate and increase the land bank’s ability to work on properties. The council’s funding of the program would be a strong indication of that buy-in. To me this is a case where spending a little bit of money could potentially unlock huge benefits to the city and I am hopeful the council agrees to fund the project.
Predictably, as the meeting turned to the subject of the golf course, things got tense. Barone offered to be the general manager of the course on an unpaid volunteer basis. While I believe Thane is completely within her rights to veto the contract resolutions based on principle, I don’t see a scenario where she is going to be able to hire Richard Scott for this position. Barone at least admitted the running of the golf course had been “lackadaisical” and if he can present a clear plan to straighten things out, maybe the city should consider his offer.
Thane and Barone argued over whether the course was losing money or not, each asserting his or her position was correct. Looking at the proposed 2013-2014 budget, we can see a history of the revenues vs. appropriations from as far back as 2006. Generally, we can see that in some years, the course came out ahead, some years it didn’t. Without knowing the specifics of every line, however, it’s difficult for your average person to tell what is really going on here.
However, I believe there are three figures that I think are important to the discussion which I don’t see specifically enumerated in the budget: 1) The cost of supplying water to the course; 2) The revenue generated by golf cart related fees; and 3) The cost of maintaining the rental golf carts.
At the end of the day, I see the Common Council is united in pushing through the golf course contracts and my prediction is that they will succeed. However I still maintain that this push is completely inconsistent with their voter-approved mandate to increase fiscal responsibility.
At the meeting, Hatzenbuhler talked about an idea to centralize purchasing of office and janitorial supplies to try to save money. She indicated she wasn’t expecting this to generate a whole lot of savings but that they “had to start somewhere.” That’s a nice thought. Why isn’t Hatzenbuhler extending this same scrutiny of finances to the golf course?
In my opinion, the council’s unthoughtful dismissal of the analysis and competitive RFP process that the Golf Commission has worked on has absolutely no justification other than blatant political posturing. This may be great political strategy, but it has left the taxpayers worse off, not better.